Regency Heroine Winners

Well, I want to say that everyone who offered suggestions for my “real Regency heroines” list are winners simply by being generous people who participated and expanded everyone’s knowledge of the period by doing so. But I did promise specifically to give away a free ebook or two, and since the response was so wonderful, I gave away four!!

The winners were chosen at random and they are: Sharon Farrell, Queen PoohBear, Harriet Robinson, and author Kim Lambert (who posted on FB). I included several people who posted on FB because I know not everyone finds it easy to post comments on the blog. Congratulations to all four winners! And thanks again to everyone for helping to create a most interesting roster of admirable women!

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April Fools


This was first posted on April 1, 2013, but it is just as relevant today (because today is also April 1!)

What is the origin of April Fools Day?

No one knows for sure, but it is speculated that it came about when the French calendar was reformed in the sixteenth century, moving the start of the year from March to January 1. Some people who clung to the old calendar and continued to celebrate the New Year from March 25 to April 1, had tricks played on them. The pranksters would stick paper fish on their backs. Thus they were called Poisson d’Avril, ‘April Fish,’ the name the French call April Fools even today.

April fools jokes have continued through the years. Near “our” time period a clever one was pulled off.


In 1860 a postcard was sent to several people admitting two to the Tower of London to view the annual ceremony of washing the White Lions on April 1. The invitees were instructed that they would be admitted only at the White Gate.

On April 1, several cabs were driving around Tower Hill looking for the White Gate—which, of course, didn’t exist.

April Fool!!

What was the best April Fools joke you played on someone or one someone played on you?

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30 Real Regency Heroines

Here we are at the end of Women’s History Month. The response to my request for suggestions of “real Regency heroines” has been outstanding, and I have to say almost none of these following admirable women were on Wikipedia’s list of 53 “Women of the Regency”, although nearly all do have write-ups there. I wonder what criteria they were using for that list?? Anyway, many, many thanks to everyone who contributed. I am actually going to award several free ebooks because so many people participated (I will post that separately next week after all have been awarded and accepted.)

I want to offer special thanks to author Judith Laik, who generously sent me her notes from a past talk on women scientists of our period. The first 20 women below were contributed by various people (and sometimes multiple people), in the comments here at Riskies or to me via Facebook or email. The last 10 are from Judith’s talk, the entries shortened by me. How many of these women were already familiar to you? I purposely left out some of the most famous Regency heroines, and I am the first to say this list is hardly complete. I take full responsibility for the editing of the summaries. I hope you enjoy reading through it!

1. Mary Anning (1799-1849) English fossil collector and paleontologist who became known around the world for her important finds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis. Her discovery of fossilized dinosaur skeletons contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth.

2. Anna Atkins  (1799–1871) –botanist and photographer. Often considered the first to publish a book illustrated with photographic images. After receiving an unusually scientific education (for a woman), she pursued botany and illustrated her father’s book on shells. After marriage, she continued her scientific interests, and learned about early forms of chemical photography developed by friends of her father and her husband, William Henry Fox Talbot and Sir John Herschel (Caroline Herschel’s nephew). Anna proved Herschel’s cyanotype process to be of practical use by illustrating the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions with it in October of the same year he invented it (1842).

3. Dr James Barry (Margaret Ann Bulkley)  (c. 1789–1865) Born in Ireland as Margaret Ann Bulkley and known as female in childhood, for multiple reasons Barry adopted the identity of a man to be accepted as a university student and pursue a career as a surgeon. Over the course of a long military career Barry achieved the rank of Inspector General (equivalent to Brigadier General) in charge of military hospitals, the second highest medical office in the British Army. Barry not only improved conditions for wounded soldiers, but also the conditions for native inhabitants, and performed the first caesarean section in Africa in which both the mother and child survived. (He had hoped to keep his gender secret to the grave, but his wishes were thwarted when he died. He wouldn’t have wanted to be on this list.)

4. Sophie Blanchard (1778-1819)- Napoleon’s official balloonist and aerial advisor, she was the first woman to pilot her own balloon and the first to make ballooning her career. She began as the wife of Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the world’s first professional balloonist, and continued after he died (in a balloon accident) just five years after she started. She became extremely famous throughout Europe and often performed in Italy. She performed 67 balloon ascents before she was killed in a balloon accident at the age of 41.

5. Etheldred Benett (1776-1845)-one of the first female geologists in Britain. Her collection of Wiltshire fossils was extensive, and she was respected by many in the field. Since she had her own money, she even published her own monograph. Her wonderful name could be confusing to some and led to the unexpected: She was awarded membership in the Natural History Society of Moscow, and Tsar Nicholas I granted her an honorary doctorate. They did not realize she was a woman.

6. Eleanor Coade (both mother and daughter with the same name) – operated a highly successful ceramic (artificial stone) factory in Lambeth, either inventing or at least improving the material itself, and supplying vast quantities of building materials, reproduction statues, decoration, etc in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Their secret formula for “Coadestone” was lost, sadly, since the material has held up extremely well over the centuries and never has been replicated.

7. Mrs Coutts –(1777-1837) “Lady Jersey and Mrs. Coutts owned shares in banks and were active in the management of them. Coutts was a philanthropist as was her heir, her step grand-daughter Angela, Lady Burdett -Coutts. They gave the lie to the opinion that women couldn’t handle money.” (description by Nancy Mayer) Mrs Coutts was Harriet Mellon, a stage actress who married Thomas Coutts, a very successful Scottish-born banker, after his wife died. He was older and left her a very wealthy woman when he died. She managed her affairs (apparently of all kinds) extremely well, and later married again, to the 9th Duke of St. Albans, having gone from “a poor little player child” (her words) to a Duchess at the pinnacle of society. She wanted Sir Walter Scott to write her life’s story.

8. Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)–a significant German-born astronomer who discovered several comets and worked with her better-known older brother (astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel) and kept his house. She was the first woman to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, with Mary Somerville) among other honors. She was also the first woman in England honored with a paid government position, and the first woman to be paid for her work in astronomy.

9. Hannah Humphrey (c. 1745-1818)– While not the only London woman printer, she was the most successful of them. After getting started with her brother, she ran her print business on St. James’s Street and published such notables as Gilray, Rowlandson, and James Sayer, providing an important outlet for their social and political caricatures. Gilray boarded with her for much of his career, and she tended to him during the last years of his life.

10. Ellen Hutchins –(1785-1815)-First female Irish botantist. She contributed hundreds of specimens and drawings to the study of plants. She was well regarded during her short life (died at age 30) and has quite a few plants named after her, all native to the areas of Ireland where she lived. Her legacy can be seen in major museum collections and is celebrated at the Ellen Hutchins Festival (annual event since 2015).

11. Mary Linwood -(1755–1845)-Another spinster who achieved great success, Mary was an educator who ran a school (started by her mother) for 50 years, but her great fame came from her art. By the time she was 20 she had raised needlework to the level of fine art, specializing in full sized copies of great masters and famous paintings rendered in worsted wool. The 100 such pictures she produced were exhibited in many major cities and even Russia. Queen Charlotte had her to Windsor, and she also met many other European heads of state, including Napoleon, whose portrait she did from life. Her exhibition in Leicester Square, London, was the first art show to be illuminated by gaslight. Embroidery historians credit her for inspiring the practice of needlepoint. Her niece, also Mary Linwood, was a composer and author.

12. Ada Byron Lovelace (Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, and daughter of Lord Byron)  -(1815-1852) Writer and mathematician. Her notations in research on Charles Babbage’s proposed “analytical engine” make her the first computer programmer, presenting the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine (1843). Although the engine was never built, Ada saw the potential for much more than mere calculation of numbers.

13. Jane Marcet –(1769-1858). Early science popularizer for young readers, women, and working people. Among other works, her Conversations on Chemistry (1806, 1811) ran to sixteen editions, introducing Michael Faraday (1791-1867) to the topic. (He later became one of the world’s most famous electrochemists.)

14. Hannah More –(1745-1833) Educator, playwright, religious writer, poet, social activist and philanthropist, blue-stocking (is that all?). Hard to sum up in a few sentences, because she did so much. Numerous schools owe their existence to her, and her anti-slavery writings were passionate, but her ultra conservative views in later life have tarnished her reputation.

15. Mrs Mountain –Another (probably a widow) who proved women could succeed in business: she owned the Saracen’s Head, Snow Hill, in Holborn with a coachbuilder’s shop on the premises, owned the Louth Mail (ie, had the contract for that route), and owned partnerships in several stage coaches.

16. Mary Reibey née Molly Haydock (1777–1855) Deported to Australia at age 15 (for horse-theft after she ran away from working in service), she married at age 17 and took over her husband’s business holdings when widowed at age 34. As an Australian merchant, ship owner and trader, she was viewed as a role model of success and became legendary as a successful businesswoman in the colony. (Australian 20-dollar notes carry her picture.)

17. Duchess of Richmond –for her courage in hosting a ball in the teeth of war on the night before Waterloo

18. Mary Fairfax Somerville  -1780-1872. Scottish science writer and mathematician, she shared with Caroline Hershel the achievement of being the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society. Mary’s strength was more in mathematics and algebra, but she branched out into other areas where she wrote books on chemistry, magnetism, physics and math that were used as textbooks for almost a century. She also translated the seminal French astronomical book, The Mechanisms of the Heavens by LaPlace. She also started schools for girls and children of the middle and lower classes in Britain. She also tutored Byron’s daughter Augusta (1815-52) in mathematics, so perhaps we could say she was the “grandmother” of modern computers.

19. Hester Stanhope –“who set out for adventures in the Middle East, after her uncle, William Pitt the Younger, died. She kept house for him while he was prime minister, then flung respectability to the far winds and set out for pastures new. Or rather, deserts new” (love this description by Lynne Connolly).

20. Ann & Jane Taylor –Literary sisters. Both women wrote poetry for children as well as stories and novels, essays, and plays. Ann’s son wrote in her biography, “Two little poems – ‘My Mother,’ and ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little Star’ – are perhaps, more frequently quoted than any; the first, a lyric of life, was by Ann, the second, of nature, by Jane; and they illustrate this difference between the sisters.”

Added from Judith Laik’s talk on “Regency Women Scientists” 

21. Sarah Kirby Trimmer –(1741-1810). Philanthropist, early children’s writer and popularizer of science. She and her husband had twelve children, raised ten of them to adulthood. She founded several Sunday schools and charity schools, and wrote textbooks and manuals for other women who wished to establish schools. She wrote in a wide range of genres: textbooks, teaching manuals, children’s literature, political pamphlets and critical periodicals.

22. Sarah Bowditch Lee –(1791-1856) Illustrator & writer, she began as illustrator for her husband on a scientific expedition, during which he died. She finished the work, followed it with one entirely her own (Fresh Water Fishes of Great Britain, Drawn and Described by Mrs. T. Edward Bowdich,1828). She went on to write fiction, a biography of the geologist Baron Cuvier, and a book on taxidermy, supporting herself and her family by her illustration and writing.

23. Mary Moreland Buckland  (1797-1857). Talented illustrator and collector of fossils. Her husband, William Buckland (1784-1856) was an English geologist, paleontologist and Dean of Westminster, who wrote the first full account of a fossil dinosaur, which he named Megalosaurus. Married in 1825, they visited noted geologists and geological sites on their honeymoon. She assisted in his work, in between giving birth to nine children, of whom five survived to adulthood. Mary helped her husband prove that footprints found in a slab of sandstone were of a tortoise by covering the kitchen table with paste while he brought in their pet tortoise to cast and compare its footprints.

24. Margaret Bryan — Educator and popularizer of science. She published three standard scientific textbooks during the final years of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth. Her first book, A Compendious System of Astronomy, dedicated to the pupils at her school, was published in 1797. The last of her three books, A Comprehensive Astronomical and Geographical Class Book for the use of Schools and Private Families, was published in 1815.

25. Elizabeth Gould (1804-41). One of the outstanding bird illustrators of her time, Elizabeth accompanied her husband, John Gould (1804-81), on expeditions to gather information for their series of books. The Gould Bird books were respected reference materials for ornithologists and amateurs. Gould had to leave several of her eight children behind while she traveled to Australia to illustrate what would become the seven-volume Birds of Australia (1840-48). She also, ahead of her time, was interested in the ecology of the Australian bush, noting the intimate interconnection between birds and plants. Sadly she died before the series was completed.

26. Elizabeth Twining (1805-89). Elizabeth Twining, of the tea-growing family, was a botanical illustrator. Self-taught, when young she studied The Botanical Magazine to learn about plants. She visited botanical gardens to study living specimens. In 1849 she published the first volume of her popular Illustrations of the Natural Order of Plants with Groups and Descriptions, the second volume in 1855. She also wrote Ten Years in a Ragged School and Readings for Mothers Meetings. Twining was also a philanthropist. She restored almshouses, established a hospital for the poor, and a home for destitute girls.

27. Anne Pratt (1806-93). Another nature illustrator and writer. As a child, Anne Pratt studied every kind of plant. In 1828 she began to write, illustrate, and publish nearly twenty books about native British flowers, fields, woodlands, sedges, ferns, and sea plants, including Flowering Plants and Ferns of Great Britain, a five-volume text first published in 1855 and covering every order of British plants. Her most popular volume was Wild Flowers (1852-53), a work illustrated in block prints and intended for children.

28. Jane Webb Loudon (1807-58). Botanist and novelist. Her career began with The Mummy, A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in 1827. John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), a well-known landscape gardener and horticultural writer, read her book, arranged to meet her and married her. Jane became his companion and secretary, learned and shared in his business. She collaborated with him on a gardening encyclopedia, and wrote books on botany and gardening published in the 1840’s which sold extremely well. She also founded and edited a weekly, The Ladies’ Companion at Home and Abroad. She was able to support herself and her daughter with her work after her husband died, contributing to the movement in science popularization and children’s literature.

29. Mary Horner Lyell  (1808-1873). Familiar with science first through her father (geologist Leonard Horner) and then through assisting her husband (Sir Charles Lyell, 1797-1875), Mary became an accomplished British geologist and conchologist. She accompanied her husband whenever possible as he traveled extensively in Europe and North America. Her husband’s book Principles of Geology was considered essential to Darwin in the development of his evolutionary theory.

30. Margaret Gatty (1809-73). Writer of educational science books for children and student of marine algae. She intensively researched the subject for fourteen years before publishing her British Sea-weeds (1863). She also authored Parables from Nature (various editions 1855-71), one of the most popular children’s books of the Victorian period. She also founded a children’s magazine, Aunt Judy’s Magazine, named for her daughter, Juliana Horatia Ewing.

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“The Falling Sickness” -for International Purple Day

In Regency times, “The Falling Sickness” was the name given to epilepsy, which was recognized but little understood at the time. That’s hardly any wonder, for the condition has been recognized and misunderstood going back for something like 3,000 years. Since I researched and wrote a character with epilepsy in my 4th Regency novel, An Unlikely Hero, I wanted to post today in recognition of International Purple Day (and not because that’s my favorite color).  #InternationalPurpleDay is the annual day set aside to raise awareness of #epilepsy world-wide. Are you wearing purple today?

The first known description of an epileptic seizure was found in a text from ancient Mesopotamia. Predictably, the cause was considered paranormal, blamed on the influence of their Moon god. Possession by demons or spirits has been a common explanation throughout history, and epilepsy has frequently been treated as a form of insanity. Influence of the moon has long been associated with it, and the terms “moon struck” and “lunatic,” deriving from that, helped to support the insanity diagnosis.

The Greeks called it the “Sacred Disease” and associated it with genius (and lunacy), but still ascribed a divine cause. Good old Hippocrates, however, tried to debunk that, identifying it as a medically treatable disease of the brain that furthermore had a genetic component. Not bad for the 5th century BC. He called it the “great disease” and the term for “grand mal” seizures comes from the French version of his term. But of course, for many more centuries no one listened to him.

People fear what they don’t understand. Even into the 18th century, they thought epilepsy was contagious, even while superstitious explanations for the cause continued. Laws addressed epilepsy –from the earliest Code of Hammurabi that said slaves with epilepsy could be sent back to their seller if a seizure happened within a certain return period, to laws in the U.S. and many other countries that forbade epileptics to marry, required them to undergo sterilization, and even set up “colonies” to separate them from society (supposedly to “help” them).

The first medical treatment for epilepsy (potassium bromide, essentially a sedative) wasn’t offered until the Victorian era, c. 1855. But at least it was the beginning of a search for treatments and a change in attitude from the days of assuming “evil spirits” were at work. However, those marriage laws, laws that prevented epileptics from having driver’s licenses, and many other forms of discrimination have continued until modern times. Misunderstanding and prejudice still continue today.

Who would put an epileptic character into a romance novel? I would. I write “sweet” romance, but I’m “risky” in other ways. I like to follow roads less taken. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal that the heroine’s twin sister in An Unlikely Hero has epilepsy, and much of the plot outside of the main romance hinges entirely on attitudes about her illness. From the father who tries denial to the aunt who thinks Vivien should be able to just stop doing it, they reflect unaccepting attitudes that still happen today. The fact that in the Regency period the wrong husband for Vivien would be able to just lock her away in an insane asylum for life looms large over the sisters’ activities, and social attitudes give leverage to the villain who… well, let’s not give everything away.

International Purple Day is important. Bringing epilepsy out into the light so people will understand and accept it instead of fearing it helps to change social attitudes. Did you know that the last of the 17 U.S. states that forbade epileptics to marry only repealed their law in 1980? Did you know that the trendy Keto diet was first developed to try to help epileptic children? Or that 1.2% of the population (3 million people) in the U.S. (or 1% in Canada) have epilepsy?

When Signet NAL published An Unlikely Hero (in 1996), a friend wrote to me and told me she cried when she finished the book. She had grown up with a father who had epilepsy and had to hide it in order to keep his driver’s license and his job. I can barely begin to imagine the stress of having to live like that, but I tried to capture some sense of it when I wrote my story. A reissued (but not re-edited) version of An Unlikely Hero is available as an ebook from Penguin Random House, in case you are inspired to check out the story.

Have you read other works of fiction that included characters with epilepsy? How do you feel about including health issues like that as part of a romance? I hope you’ll let me know in the comments!

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A Pea-Souper

It’s been cold enough this winter that I’ve had to turn on my heater more than a few times (some winters I never use it). Moving through my hundred year old house, I find the cold pockets and drafty spots, and I think about how my characters must have experienced winter in their much colder climate and high-ceilinged homes.

Gillray, “Taking Physick”

Note the coal basket in the fireplace in the image above, with the small attached stove or “hob”.

Especially when most people relied upon coal to heat their homes (coal does not put out much in the way of heat when you get any distance from it). In Cruickshank and Burton’s “Life in the Georgian City” they say this about London and coal:

“Foreigners were not only shocked by the ‘black smoeks [and] caustic vapors’ and the way they ‘poison the air we breath’, but also by the fact that, after all this, coal gave off so little hat. As Geijer observed: ‘They…do not know what a warm room means. Porcelain stoves are unknown…A few forgotten coals like in the grate when it is cold, but the warmth goes the same way as the smoke and the smell, out through the chimney.”


Rowlandson “The Miseries of Human Life”

Again, in the image above, note the coal basket, this time somewhat larger and more impressive.

A visitor from France further observed that ‘None but people of the first quality burn wood at London, and they too only in the Bed Chamber; yet I do not find that wood is very expensive in England…The smoke that rises from this [the coal fire] is horribly thick…all things considered, a wood fire must be owned to be much more agreeable.’

It was this smoke that made London buildings grey and grimy and caused the peculiar yellow fogs for which the City was infamous (the “pea soup” descriptor dates to 1820 in print and was thus probably around colloquially long before that).

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Shipwrecked with the Captain

I have a new book out in paperback and ebook. Shipwrecked with the Captain is Book 2 in my Governess Swap series.

Here is the back cover blurb:

“All she remembers…

…is feeling safe in his arms!
Shipwrecked governess Claire Tilson wakes in Captain Lucien Roper’s arms—with amnesia! Her handsome rescuer believes she’s a member of the aristocracy he detests, yet he risks all to see her “home,” where she learns she’s betrothed to a wealthy stranger. Claire is convinced she doesn’t belong here…and Lucien is the only man she trusts to uncover her past and claim her future!”

Part of Shipwrecked with the Captain takes place in Bath, that beautiful Georgian city where Jane Austen lived and set two of her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. I visited Bath in 2017 with my friend Kristine Hughes Patrone of Number One London tours, and it was wonderful to walk the same streets and see the same sights as Jane Austen. It was also a treat to make my hero and heroine walk those streets and visit all the important Bath sights.

Like the Royal Crescent

Or Bath Abbey

Shipwrecked with the Captain is available in paperback or ebook from online vendors in North America and in UK bookstores.

Get your copy today!

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Real Regency Heroines, for Women’s History Month


March is Women’s History Month (in the U.S.). It’s also National Reading Month and National Nutrition Month. I thought of writing about how these can be related. (Reading feeds our minds, and how about reading about women? And writing about them, of course.) But instead, let’s talk about real heroines of the Regency period. (See giveaway details at the end.)

Wikipedia lists fifty-three “Women of the Regency Era” who have their own pages. They range from the obvious (Jane Austen) to the notorious (Harriet Wilson) to the questionable (Princess Caraboo). But rather than list them here, or try to even scratch the surface of this topic, I’d like to invite you to chime in with your favorite candidates. Who were the real heroines of our period?

I would hold that merely existing in the period isn’t enough. What qualities do we expect heroines to demonstrate? Courage, for one, I’m sure you’d agree –no matter what time period she lives in. Certainly in real Regency heroines, courage was necessary to pursue any course outside of normal expectations. Tenacity is another one I am sure was needed just to live any kind of satisfying life as a woman in the early 19th century. What else? And who comes to your mind?

Let’s think about the various ways in which women could be “significant”. Which of these women contributed to the betterment of society, or added to the knowledge or literacy of our world? Or gave their support (sometimes invisibly) to men who accomplished significant things? What other ways did they make impacts?

And also, I would make a distinction between fame and significance. Certainly Lady Emma Hamilton’s beauty and choices made her infamous in her own time and famous even today. Do you think she made the best life out of the limited choices she had? Does she belong on the list of significant women?

Mary Wollstonecraft

I’ll start, offering Mary Wollstonecraft. While she lived almost too early to be included, she was only 38 when she died in childbirth, producing the daughter who would become Mary Shelley. That was in 1797, five years after she published her Rights of Women. Can you imagine what her life might have been like, or what controversies she might have stirred up, if she had lived on into the full Regency era? And I would say she gave us a daughter who also became a significant woman of the Regency.

Perhaps I’ll print the names on Wikipedia’s list a bit later this month, after we’ve had some time to discuss this topic. I wonder how many of them we can come up with on our own, and how many we’ll feel can be classified as heroines?

I’ll even offer this: a free ebook to one commenter, either chosen randomly or if one person stands out as offering the most interesting response, by the end of March. Offering a book feels right during National Reading Month!!

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Elena status update

Hi, everyone. I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been missing the Riskies while dealing with an eye issue that has been flaring up off and on since last May and taking longer to heal each time. I won’t go into details, but I have dry eyes and something additional going on in the right which several good cornea specialists I’ve seen haven’t been able to treat to their satisfaction, though I’ve been slowly getting better. I have an appointment in early April with one of the top experts in dry eye and related conditions, and I’m hopeful that she will figure this out–and how to keep it from happening again.

In the meantime, I’m trying some general health changes (like taking fish oil pills) that may help and can’t hurt. I’m also trying to get better about resting my eyes–as soon as they feel better, I start overdoing.

Since the left eye works OK, I can drive, read, write, work on the computer, etc… The problem is with how long I can do these things. Even covered by the patch, the right eye is somehow trying to focus along with the left and starts to hurt after about 10-15 minutes of eye-intensive activity. Which means I now set a timer, work in 10 minute spurts followed by as much as 30 minutes of rest. Not great for an writer and avid reader!

This is why I’ve been largely off the blog and off Facebook. I need to save my eyes for mundane things like paying bills, working on taxes, and filling out financial aid paperwork.

Anything left I’m trying to devote mostly to writing–which is progressing slowly. I’ve thought about trying dictation software, but I have a messy writing process–crappy first drafts and lots of rearranging and rewriting. I’m not sure there’s a way to use dictation software that way, or if I’d need to change my process so the messy parts happen in my head and then I can dictate the cleaner result. For now, I’m just accepting slow progress and hoping for healing. (People have recovered from conditions like this, but it takes time.)

In the meantime, things that are helping me stay sane are audiobooks and music. I’ve taken up the piano again, and since I’m starting with pieces I used to play, there’s little reading required. I’ve also recently unpacked my classical CDs and have been finding all sorts of forgotten treasures amongst them. I’ve been playing some of my favorites as a way to wind down before going to bed, since gratitude journaling and Zen doodling are out for now.

Here’s an example of the sort of piece I like to listen to before bed and a great piece for Anglophiles–“The Lark Ascending” by Ralph Vaughn Williams, performed by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, with Iona Brown as the violin soloist and Neville Marriner conducting. It’s just what I need, reminding me of walks I took through the English countryside years ago.

Do you have favorite pieces of music that help you through rough patches? Please share.

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What to Wear in Winter Redux

I wrote the original of this blog post six years ago, almost to the day. Even though today it reached near 60 degrees F in Northern Virginia, last week we were in the teens and the midwest had reached record lows. So this blog post seemed very apropos! Here it is (with minor editing):

We’ve just been through a very cold patch of winter here in Northern Virginia, with snow and ice and below freezing temperatures. Parts of the US had been seeing even worse. So bundling up and keeping warm have been on my mind these days.

I searched “winter” on the Regency Encyclopedia, and came up with What To Wear In Winter in The Regency.

From A Lady of Distinction   –   Regency Etiquette, the Mirror of Graces (1811)
R.L. Shep Publications (1997)

1812 Nov

Satin, Genoa velvet, Indian silks and kerseymere may all be fashioned into as becoming an apparel for the slender figure as for the more en bon point and the warmth they afford is highly needful to preserve health during the cold and damps of winter.

The mantle or cottage-cloak should never be worn by females exceeding a moderate en bon point and we should recommend their winter garbs to be formed of double sarsenet or fine Merina cloth, rather than velvets, which (except black) give an appearance of increased size to the wearer.

Red Morocco, scarlet, and those very vivid hues cannot be worn with any propriety until winter, when the color of the mantle or pelisse may sanction its fullness.

I love the emphasis on looking slim! Some things never change.  And look how similar the colors are to what we wear in winter. I love the rich deep colors of winter clothing.

From Buck, Anne M.   –   Contrib to The Regency Era 1810-1830
The Connoisseur Period Guide (1958)

White muslin was for the whole period pre-eminent for morning wear. Only in the months of mid-winter did the hardy Englishwoman abandon it for silk, poplin or wool.

Nothing sets the dress of 1800-20 so much apart from the style before and the style which followed as the scarcity of the underwear beneath it. A chemise of linen, long, reaching well below the knee; light flexible stays; a petticoat, cotton in warm weather, fine flannel in winter; and then the gown or slip. Many of the muslin gowns were worn over a silk slip.

Straw bonnets were worn during the summer months for walking, Leghorn or fine Dunstable straw, usually plainly trimmed. Fashionable for all the summers of 1815-30, they remained comparatively plain even in the years of excessive trimming. In winter black velvet replaced them.

Black velvet hats sound divine! And note how the lady was supposed to wear as little underwear as possible! Hearty Englishwoman, indeed!

From Cunnington, C. Willett – English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century
Dover reprint of 1937 original (1990)

The summer pelisse was unlined, the winter pelisse was lined.

And more on undergarments by Cunnington, C. Willett & Phillis – The History of Underclothes Dover (1992)

The petticoat was made of cotton, cambric, linen or for winter, sometimes fine flannel.

The idea of “fine flannel” underwear sounds lovely on a cold, damp day!

De Courtais, Georgine – Women’s Hats, Headdresses and Hairstyles
Dover Publications (2006) says

In winter caps and hats (1800-1810) were often trimmed with fur to match similar edging on robes and coats, but a wide range of materials was used both for the hats and for their trimmings.

I love the fur trimmings. Now we can do this in faux fur and still be animal-friendly! And washable!


And for the gentleman, from Kelly, Ian – Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Man of Style
Free Press (2006)

Brummell also ordered surtouts or greatcoats from Schweitzer and Davidson for winter wear. They were significantly heavier garments, so much so that they were noted in the weighing books at (wine merchants) Berry Brothers. Made out of even heavier worsteds and “Norwich stuff” – another feltlike beaten wool – they were still exquisitely cut and molded.


What is your favorite winter garment?

I like the wool scarf and plaid gloves I bought in Scotland while on Number One London’s Scottish Retreat.

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A Background of War

British Infantry at Quatre Bras?

Have any of you already seen movie director Peter Jackson’s magnificent documentary about World War I, “They Shall Not Grow Old”? Today it is opening in 500 more theaters around the US after the preliminary viewings have been so well-received. What, you may ask, does this film have to do with the Regency? Bear with me.

My hubby and I went out in gusty minus 15 degree wind chills earlier in January to view this film, and I have to tell you, it is unforgettable. Jackson and his production teams delved through 100 hours of old, grainy film footage shot at varying speeds on hand-reeled cameras and 600 hours of oral history recordings made available by the British Imperial War Museum to pull together this amazing experience. By choosing a narrowly focused story and using every modern film and computer technique available to enhance the material, they truly captured an indelible, brilliantly rendered experience of being on the front lines in France during The Great War.

My brain always seems to pull things into a Regency frame of reference, and I felt that this film also captured a sense of what war in the Regency period would also have felt like. It probably captures it for any time, but the differences in technology between WWI and more recent wars are legion.

What struck me is that WWI’s ground war was probably the last that still somewhat resembled what wars had been like through history up to that point. In WWI, vehicles were still pulled by horses, and many officers still were mounted. Artillery cannon may have been more accurate and had a longer range, but the experience of loading and firing them (and receiving fire) had not changed much in 100 years. Infantry still used rifles with fixed bayonets. The misery of life in the trenches had not changed much, either.

The Napoleonic conflicts were just about as long past then as WWI is to us today. Jackson’s film does not try to capture the very different experiences of the air or sea parts of the Great War, where the technology differences would be more significant. But to me, the images of men trying to release a heavily-loaded team-drawn wagon from deep mud, or of the cannons rocking back when they fire, or simply of men waiting for battle, could have been pulled from Napoleonic France with very little added imagination.

Painting of the Battle of Waterloo by artist William Holmes Sullivan
Waterloo, by William Holmes Sullivan

Britain was at war with France from 1793-1815. There were impacts at home that may or may not inform the background of our Regency stories. The reality of men coming home wounded, or men who never made it home, of news events that people talked about, all form an underpinning to the era. Four of my Regency romances all feature heroes who served in the war, and in three of those, the effects of the war are deeply integral to the story.

Even impacts after the war, when the influx of soldiers coming home led to unemployment and other social problems, can figure in our stories, as a mere mention in passing or as an important part of plot or character.

Jackson’s film, at the end, shows exactly those same kinds of problems faced by the returning soldiers from WWI. We like to think the lack of gratitude or awareness was not as bad at the end of the Napoleonic Wars –people in Britain did fear the Little General might come right to their shores. Also, the population was not as huge, and every class felt some effect of war, whether it was the aristocratic families whose younger sons were officers, or the poor whose sons risked life and limb for the promise of pay. In WWI, the threat to Great Britain was perhaps not as vivid as it was before, or after. One soldier in Jackson’s film who was able to return to his old job after fighting in the war recalls being asked, “Where’ve you been, mate? Workin’ nights?”

I recommend this film to you, for a greater understanding of what the background of war can mean to our characters, and so to enrich our own storytelling. If it isn’t at a theater near you, it is also available online, at: . But the large screen version will be far more affecting, and it also includes a separate, fascinating short film about how Jackson made this amazing documentary. (Just be patient through the first few minutes.)

But be prepared –it isn’t pretty, and it is very moving. I managed not to cry until the end, but when the song Jackson chose for the credits began to play, I lost it. My paternal grandfather served in France during WWI (in the American army) and he used to sing that song all the time when I was a child. Hinkey-dinky-parlez-vous is embedded in my family memories. Although I must add, NOT most of the verses I heard sung for Jackson’s film!!

Have you seen the film? Do you think the similarities & emotion translate across 100 years of time to the Regency period? What do you think about the background of war in Regency romances?

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